The History of Saint Francis Chapel

By Fr. John L. Wykes, OMV

with much thanks to all those who contributed to this work:

    Mr. Rich McKinney and the Archives of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary
    Mr. Robert Johnson, Archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston
    Rev. Vincent Grogan, Archivist of Holy Name Province of the Franciscans in Butler, NY
    Mr. John Fleming

1947 The beginnings of St. Francis Chapel can be traced back to 1947, when the Franciscan Friars first came to Boston to build a Shrine dedicated to Saint Anthony. The result was the first Saint Anthony’s Shrine. Due to increasing needs, a bigger shrine was built in 1953; this is Saint Anthony’s Shrine on Arch Street as we know it today.
1960 Construction on the Prudential Tower began in 1960. When finished in 1964, the 52-floor skyscraper was the tallest building in the world of any city outside of New York. The surrounding area saw the construction of a shopping mall. The resulting Prudential Center was dubbed “the Pru” by locals.
1966 Richard Cardinal Cushing was a very active Boston archbishop and saw a wonderful ministerial opportunity at the new Prudential Center. An Archdiocesan memo dating from 1966 discussed the initial proposal for opening an ecumenical center at the site. Later, the idea was for a new chapel which could serve as a “satellite” chapel of Saint Anthony’s Shrine on Arch Street.

Richard Cardinal Cushing
1969 Saint Francis Chapel was dedicated by Cardinal Cushing on November 11, 1969.
1970 Richard Cardinal Cushing retired and was succeeded by Humberto Sousa Medeiros, who became the Archbishop of Boston on September 8, 1970.
1973 Though initially thought mostly to be an extension of Saint Anthony’s, Saint Francis Chapel grew in its ministerial importance. It became clear that the new Chapel was no longer merely a “satellite,” but a major site of ministry in its own right. Fr. David Fleming, OFM, became the first director of St. Francis Chapel in 1973.
Fr. David Fleming, OFM

1983 Several years later, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary came to the United States and, at the invitation of Cardinal Medeiros, took possession of St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine at 1105 Boylston. When the Franciscans found themselves no longer able to staff St. Francis Chapel, the Oblates were invited by Cardinal Medeiros to take on this ministry. This request was made in the Spring of 1983.

The Oblates took a couple months to reflect on this proposal. Finally, the Rector Major (Father General) of the Oblates, Rev. Otello Ponzanelli, OMV, said yes. The Oblates of the Virgin Mary officially assumed direction of Saint Francis Chapel on June 1, 1983. Cardinal Medeiros celebrated the 12:05 p.m. Mass there on August 15 of that year. Fr. Peter Gojuk, OMV, became the first OMV director of Saint Francis Chapel.

Saint Francis Chapel used to have Eucharistic Adoration only in the afternoon hours. Later, the practice moved to all-day Adoration, then back to the afternoon hours only. Gradually, the practice of all-day Eucharistic Adoration was restored, first during Lent, then during Advent. Currently, Saint Francis Chapel has Eucharistic Adoration during the morning and afternoon hours six days a week, and one hour in the afternoon on Sundays.

The old Saint Francis Chapel, as it appeared in 1992

The old Saint Francis Chapel Bookstore, as it appeared in 1992
1986 Even in 1986, just three years after the Oblates assumed direction of the Chapel, there was some discussion as to the future of Saint. Francis Chapel, especially when considering a proposed renovation of the entire area. Bishop Lawrence Riley, assistant to the Cardinal, invited all priests and pastors in the area to meet with him. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how best to continue to serve the local community. It was decided that St. Francis Chapel was important and ought to continue its ministerial presence. Thus, it was also clear that a new Saint Francis Chapel would be built. The old Chapel, which was located near the current location of Barnes & Noble, was torn down.

A new Chapel would be built at a new location immediately adjacent (on the east side) to the Hynes Convention Center and to the West of the Prudential Tower. Chapel Director Fr. John Ferrera, OMV, and his successor, Fr. John Paul Klein, OMV, weathered the difficulties of a new site location and architectural negotiations. Workers at the new Saint Francis Chapel were so frustrated by the numerous construction difficulties that they refused to return to work until Fr. John Paul blessed the site and asked for the help and intercession of Saint Joseph.

Construction of the new Prudential Center

Construction of the new Prudential Center

1993 After more than a few headaches and delays, the new Prudential Center complex of shops (now in the form of multiple “courts”) was ready to open, and this included the new Saint Francis Chapel, which was dedicated by Bernard Cardinal Law on April 28, 1993.

The new Chapel was certainly an improvement over the original. There were now upholstered pews and chairs, with expanded seating for a total of 225 people. A larger office area and larger bookstore, along with beautiful new statues and more room for votive candles, completed the picture.

Over the years, under Chapel Directors Fr. John Paul Klein, OMV, Fr. Jim Nibler, OMV, and Fr. Tom Carzon, OMV, the ministry at the Chapel increased. Days of Directed Prayer Experiences, Retreats, Spiritual Direction, and Bible Studies were offered. The larger bookstore offered a greater range of books and religious objects.

Dedication of the new Saint Francis Chapel on April 28, 1993

Fr. John Paul Klein, OMV
2001 Historic events had their impact. In the weeks after 9/11, many people visited the Chapel for prayer, confession, and consolation.
2005 In 2005, the death of Pope John Paul II was announced in the middle of the Divine Mercy Novena, and numerous people, often overcome with grief, flooded into the Chapel to pray for the deceased pontiff.

Also in 2005, Fr. Dennis Brown, OMV announced the name of the new pope during the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. He was just three words before the name of the pope is usually read during the prayer when fellow priests rushed in with a paper bearing the name of Benedict XVI.

During his years at the Chapel, Fr. Vincenzo Antolini, OMV delighted Chapel-goers with his linguistic abilities. He offered Masses on weekday evenings in various languages: Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Fr. Tom Carzon, OMV left St. Francis Chapel in the summer of 2005 and Fr. John Wykes, OMV, became the new director.
As the years passed, it became clear that improvements were needed to the space. Though many people still considered this to be the “new” Chapel, the previous twelve years had been very busy. The Chapel had been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, with thousands of people flooding in and out from all over the world. The years had finally taken their toll. The walls were dingy and in need of re-painting. Many kneelers were torn, broken, or missing altogether. The pews were stained and worn, with the cushioning now crushed down to nothing but powder. The carpeting had taken a severe beating, and was very worn and even torn in several places.

Plans were made to renovate the Chapel. The space would be re-painted and the carpeting would be replaced. When it was realized the re-upholstering of the old pews was almost as expensive as getting entirely new pews, it was decided that new pews and chairs would be purchased.

Renovations, paid mostly by a few generous donors, began in the Summer of 2007 with the re-painting of the Chapel, office area, bookstore and confessionals. In the summer of 2008, the old pews and carpeting were removed and new carpeting, new pews, and new chairs were installed. In addition, the storage areas were cleaned and reorganized, old song books were repaired, woodwork was improved, and worn locks replaced.

Before and after pictures from the 2008 renovation
2008 In 2008, various new initiatives were introduced, including the Fall Speaker Series and the Ignatian Spirituality Program.
2009 In the fall of 2009, Saint Francis Chapel celebrated its fortieth birthday.
2010 In May, Fr. John Wykes, OMV left his position as director of Saint Francis Chapel and Fr. Chris Uhl, OMV became the new director.
2011 After one year as director, Fr. Chris left the Chapel to become pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Denver, CO.  Long-time staff member Fr. Dave Yankauskas, OMV became the new director of the Chapel.   On Christmas Day, Fr. Dave announced that the Chapel was scheduled to operate under a new three-year lease with Boston Properties.